Operation Cook Down My Kitchen (CDMK) Kicks Off With Dan Dan Mian … and a Giveaway

Noodles, noodles, noodles ... what to do with these noodles?

We’re doing it again. Moving that is.

This is the second time in less than a year, the fifth since we married in 2002. And, I’m not counting the periods in-between living out of a suitcase in a hotel or someone’s guest room for weeks at a time.

Five times in nine years isn’t bad for a military family if you think about it. Still, I am tiring of it.

This time though, I’m not focused on the actual, physical act of moving. Yes, there are books to box and clothes to fold into suitcases. There are toys to give away and furniture to sell.

But this time is different.

This time, my husband, my son, and I are moving away from the Washington, D.C. area. But this time, we’re headed for different destinations. Isaac and I are moving to Seattle to spend the next year living with my sister and her husband (and two dogs!). My husband is deploying to Afghanistan. He’s not going overseas till late March but he left this past weekend for four weeks of training.

In his brief–for now–absence, I am also “in training.” I am preparing myself mentally and spiritually for our 12 month separation. I am anticipating Isaac’s reaction to daddy being gone with an aching heart. I am practicing the art of being Zen (absolutely necessary with a toddler).

And, I am strategizing on how to use up all the noodles, canned foods, sauces, condiments, etc., etc., lurking in every corner of my tiny kitchen.

This bottle of tahini dressing has been languishing in my fridge since I bought it several months ago.

Considering we’ve only lived in our current apartment for eight months, I really don’t know how I managed to accumulate enough food to feed a Navy flotilla of starved sailors when I only live with one.

To start Operation CDMK, I inventoried my entire kitchen. I’m sure I’ve missed a can of corn or two hiding out under the sink but here’s what I have:

Dried food
Black rice
Rice noodles
Egg noodles
Red lentils
Rose petals
Lasagna noodles
Cornbread mix
Mochiko flour
Roasted peanuts
Sesame seeds
Palm sugar

Canned food
Coconut milk
Crushed tomatoes
Coconut water
Straw mushrooms

Frozen galangal
Banana leaves
Pandan leaves
Green beans

Tahini dressing
Tamarind paste
Pickled ginger
Duck sauce
Soy sauce (3 types)
Fish sauce
Wasabi powder
Balsamic vinegar

Gooseberry preserves
Branston pickle
Peanut butter

And of course I have myriad spices: coriander, cardamom, turmeric, paprika, etc., etc.

With only four weeks till we move, my tactic is to use up as many items as possible in one dish.

Am I in trouble? If someone has a 12-step (or less!) kitchen cleansing program, I obviously need to hear about it.

Or better yet, please leave me suggestions for interesting flavor combinations/recipes using my ingredients above in the comments section. To make it a little more fun, I’ll give away 2 downloads of my “Asian Ingredients 101” iPhone app. I’ll be looking out for recipes that use the most ingredients at one go, and/or the most creative recipe

***This giveaway will remain open until March 1st, so do keep your suggestions coming!***

My husband has been gone almost a week now and I’m surviving. I only suppress the tears whenever Isaac comes home to an empty house crying out, “Dada … dada … dada?” But he’s a tough kid and is easily distracted by choo choos and Elmo.

Looking on the bright side, I’ve checked off a few things from my list. In fact, the first recipe I’m featuring, Dan Dan Mian (Szechuan/Sichuan Noodles in Spicy Peanut Sauce), used up five items!

So wish me luck and success as I embark on Operation CDMK, and the next phase of my journey.

P/S: Please help spread the word about my giveaway by sharing below!


Dan Dan Mian (Szechuan/Sichuan Noodles in Spicy Peanut Sauce)

I came across a recipe for dan dan noodles (“mian” means noodles in Mandarin) in Bon Appetit magazine the other day and immediately recalled the hand-shaven noodles soaked in a spicy, peanutty broth I used to inhale at Seven Stars Pepper Szechuan Restaurant in Seattle. The version I adapted isn’t as brothy and uses tahini/sesame paste instead of a peanut base which is just fine with me because I had a bottle of tahini dressing I had absolutely no idea what to do with. Since I was trying to use up what I have on hand, I substituted or left out what some might consider key ingredients (yes, that would include Szechuan peppercorns). Nonetheless, it turned out to be the perfect solo lunch. Double or quadruple the amounts to feed more people.

Makes: 1 generous serving
Time: 30 minutes

4 ounces fresh, fat Chinese egg noodles (or Shanghai cu mian or udon), or 2 to 3 ounces dried noodles
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus a little more
6 ounces ground pork
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon minced, peeled ginger (from a 1-inch piece)
1/3 cup chicken stock, or more
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or Chinkiang black vinegar
3 teaspoons tahini dressing (or 2 teaspoons tahini/sesame paste)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon chili flakes or chili oil (more if you like it spicier)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Dash sesame oil
1 tablespoon chopped roasted peanuts
1 green onion, chopped
Fried shallots and fried garlic (optional)

Cook noodles according to package directions until just tender, taking care not to overcook. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Drizzle with a little oil to prevent the strands from sticking and set aside in a large bowl.

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the pork and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to break up the pork and cook until halfway done, about 2 minutes.

Add the ginger and cook until the pork is cooked through and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, tahini, soy sauce, chili flakes, and sugar. Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 7 minutes. (Add more stock if you’d like a soupier dish.)

Stir in the sesame oil and pour the pork mixture over the noodles. Garnish with the peanuts, green onions, fried shallots and fried garlic.

Pat’s Notes:

Chinese egg noodles, Shanghai-style noodles, or udon can be found at Asian markets. Substitute with linguine if you must. Tahini is available at specialty markets and at Middle Eastern markets. If you’re already at an Asian market, try looking for Chinese sesame paste.



Pancit Parade

Fellow food blogger Marvin of Burnt Lumpia lamented that I made no mention of Filipino noodles in my article Oodles of Noodles. So I dedicate this blog post to him–Marvin, this one’s for you!

Now, no two Filipino families make pancit the same. In fact, there are several different types of pancit: pancit miki, pancit Malabon, pancit luglug, pancit sotanghon, etc. In the Filipino vernacular, pancit simply refers to noodles. 

And for fear of a Pinoy uprising, I’d like to clarify that I’m not saying this is the definitive way to make pancit. This recipe below is actually an amalgamation of two recipes, one from Aunty Neneng, and another from my friend Tisa Escobar’s mother.

Here are some other variations/tips on cooking this popular dish:

  • Instead of using both vermicelli and egg noodles, either or is fine too.
  • Boil the chicken first and then shred it, adding the cooked chicken in at the end. The stock can be used as below.
  • Instead of pre-cooking the noodles, after the meat and veggies have browned, add chicken stock followed by the uncooked noodles and cook them right in the wok.

  • Use any combination of meat or seafood you like: everything from shrimp to lap cheong (Chinese sausage).

  • Same goes for the vegetables–bean sprouts, long beans, snow peas, etc., all work well in pancit.

  • If using fresh egg noodles, blanching in boiling water and draining removes most of the salt and excess oil.

  • Not everyone uses toyomansi (see below) which is soy sauce combined with calamansi (also spelled kalamansi), a citrus fruit native to the Philippines. Read Marvin’s ode to the fruit here. You can use plain soy sauce and/or oyster sauce.


If you have some pancit tips, please drop me a comment!

Hybridized Pancit 

Time: 35 minutes
Makes: 6-8 servings

8 oz dried vermicelli (rice noodles) (1/2 package)


8 oz pancit canton noodles (you can also use Chinese egg noodles)


2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I like canola)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped finely (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 pound chicken breast or thigh, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup toyomansi (if you don’t have toyomansi, use 1/2 cup soy sauce and squeeze in 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon or lime juice to taste)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 head small cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
2 large carrots, peeled and shredded (about 1-1/2-2 cups)
2 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
2 stalks green onions, cut into ‘O’s (optional for garnish)

Soak rice noodles in warm water for 10-15 minutes until soft, then cut into 4-inch lengths. Place the egg noodles in a large heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling water to cover. Let stand 1 minute. Drain and set aside.

In a wok or large skillet, stir fry garlic and onions in oil until fragrant and onions are translucent, about 2 minutes, over medium-high heat. Add chicken and fry until no longer pink. Add toyomansi and soy sauce. Toss to coat chicken. Add vegetables and stir fry until cabbage wilts. 

Add noodles and keep stir frying until well coated and heated through. I know it looks very unprofessional but I recommend using the two-handed method to evenly toss the noodles like below.


Add water or stock a few tablespoons at a time if noodles are looking too dry. Test rice noodles for doneness. Scatter green onions for garnish and serve.

Somen + salad = tasty

After a week filled with gunmetal skies, blustery winds and neverending drizzle, the sun decided to pop up and give us a couple of Indian summer days in Seattle. Inspired by the warm(er) weather–it hit 68F in the shade!–I decided to make a refreshing, cold somen salad. Somen is a skinny Japanese noodle, kinda like vermicelli but made from wheat flour instead of rice flour. They’re usually prettily packaged in neat bundles like so.


My friend Scott Kushino’s mom, Daisy gave me this recipe. Originally from Hawaii, Daisy grew up on her mom and grandmothers’ healthy culinary creations made from the fresh vegetables homegrown on the island. When she moved to Chicago at 18, somen salad was one of many childhood recipes she took with her to the Mainland.

Though somen salad is Japanese in origin, when I told my Tokyo- born and bred (for the most part) friend Yuki about it she was a little bemused. “It sounds really good though,” she said. “I bet you can try it with soba (buckwheat noodles) too!” Hence I believe this dish is very much a Japanese/Hawaiian/American concoction.

By the way, if you’d like to learn a little more about Asian noodles, check out my article “Oodles of Noodles” that was printed in Priority magazine, the inflight magazine for Singapore Airlines (for those who know the commercial, please sing along: “Singapore Girl, you’re a great way to fly …”)

Somen Salad

Daisy’s recipe calls for kamaboko (Japanese fish cake) but you can use surimi (imitation crab meat; both kamaboko and surimi are made from the same basic ingredients, i.e. white fish) instead. Char siu aka barbecue pork is available at most Asian grocery supermarkets with a deli and what decent Hong Kong/Cantonese restaurant doesn’t have char siu on its menu? Like any salad, feel free to substitute or change portions to taste. The dressing goes fabulously with field greens too.

Time: 40 minutes

Makes: 8 servings

1 (12 oz) pkg. somen

1/2 head of small lettuce, shredded (about 2 cups)

1/2 lb char siu or ham, cut into matchsticks

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 pkg (6 oz) kamaboko or 6 sticks surimi, cut into matchsticks

2 stalks green onion, sliced into thin ‘O’s

Cook somen as directed on package. Do not overcook or the noodles will be soggy! Strain into colander, rinse with cold water, drain and set aside to cool.

Make omelets. Lightly grease a 6″ frying pan. Pour 1/2 of egg mixture into pan and roll it around to spread evenly, over low heat. When the omelet surface is nearly dry (lift edge to check if underside is cooked), flip. Cook another 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining egg mixture. When cool, roll omelets into fat cigars and cut into very fine strips.


Transfer somen to a large platter and arrange lettuce, meat, kamaboko or surimi, green onions and egg strips an top. Just before serving, pour dressing (recipe to follow) over salad. Mix well and serve on individual plates.



1/4 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons rice or white vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
l teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a jar with a screw-top lid. Screw top on. Shake well.